International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

The Joyful Life: A critical literature review into the positive emotion joy

Ellie Cobain


A wealth of current positive psychological research into wellbeing has generally favoured Seligman’s hedonic happiness approach (Mauss et al., 2012); the pursuit of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance. Void of eudemonistic insight, this approach to happiness echoes addiction; a compulsive desire to avoid negative emotional affect and escape reality (Forsyth et al., 2003; Hormes et al., 2014). Equally, positive psychology has predominantly geared towards a directive approach towards wellbeing despite references to the importance of socio-economic factors (Seligman, 1998). However, Spinoza and Nietzsche believed that joy results in an embodied connection between self and others.

Accordingly, attempting to address scholarly issues within positive psychology, a diverse range of literature into joy was reviewed. An incorporation of quantitative methods allowed for a deeper understanding of joy. Despite sparse empirical investigation, joy demonstrated to be a highly unique emotion important for wellbeing. However, joyful experiences that positively contribute to wellbeing appear context and process specific. This is discussed in more depth. Nonetheless, two of positive psychology’s goals for increasing human consciousness (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009) are identified. Suggestions for future investigation into joy are made in relation to paving a way towards enriching individual wellbeing and flourishing societies.

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